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13.5: Patterns of Organization

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    At this point, then, you should see how much your audience needs organization. You also know that as you do research, you will group together similar pieces of information from different sources in your research. As you group your research information, you will want to make sure that your content is adhering to your specific purpose statement and will look for ways that your information can be grouped together into categories.

    Interestingly, there are some standard ways of organizing these categories, which are called “patterns of organization.” In each of the examples below, you will see how the specific purpose gives shape to the organization of the speech and how each one exemplifies one of the six main organizational patterns. In each example, only the three to five main sections or “points” (Roman numerals) are given, without the other essential parts of the outline. Please note that these are simple, basic outlines for example purposes, and your instructor will of course expect much more content from the outline you submit for class.


    Specific Purpose: To describe to my classmates the four stages of rehabilitation in addiction recovery.

    1. The first stage is acknowledging the problem and entering treatment.
    2. The second stage is early abstinence, a difficult period in the rehabilitation facility.
    3. The third stage is maintaining abstinence after release from the rehab facility.
    4. The fourth stage is advanced recovery after a period of several years.

    The example above uses what is termed the chronological pattern of organization. Chronological always refers to time order. Since the specific purpose is about stages, it is necessary to put the four stages in the right order. It would make no sense to put the fourth stage second and the third stage first. However, chronological time can be long or short. If you were giving a speech about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, that period would cover several decades; if you were giving a speech about the process to change the oil in your car, that process takes less than an hour. The process described in the speech example above would also be long-term, that is, one taking several years. The commonality is the order of the information.

    In addition, chronological speeches that refer to processes can be given for two reasons. First, they can be for understanding. The speech about recovery is to explain what happens in the addiction recovery process, but the actual process may never really happen to the audience members. That understanding may also lead them to more empathy for someone in recovery. Second, chronological or process speeches can be for action and instruction. For a speech about changing the oil in a car, your purpose is that the audience could actually change the oil in their cars after listening to the speech.

    One of the problems with chronological speeches is, as mentioned before, that you would not want just a list of activities. It is important to chunk the information into three to five groups so that the audience has a framework. For example, in a speech about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, your “grouping” or “chunking” might be:

    1. The movement saw African-Americans struggling for legal recognition before the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
    2. The movement was galvanized and motivated by the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
    3. The movement saw its goals met in the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

    It would be easy in the case of the Civil Rights Movement to list the many events that happened over more than two decades, but that could be overwhelming for the audience. In this outline, the audience is focused on the three events that pushed it forward, rather than the persons involved in the movement. You could give a speech with a focus on people, but it would be different and probably less chronological and more topical (see below).

    We should say here that, realistically, the example given above is still too broad. It would be useful, perhaps, for an audience with almost no knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, but too basic and not really informative for other audiences. One of the Roman numeral points would probably be a more specific focus.


    You can see that chronological is a highly-used organizational structure, since one of the ways our minds work is through time-orientation—past, present, future. Another common thought process is movement in space or direction, which is called the spatial pattern. For example:

    Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the three regional cooking styles of Italy.

    1. In the mountainous region of the North, the food emphasizes cheese and meat.
    2. In the middle region of Tuscany, the cuisine emphasizes grains and olives.
    3. In the southern region and Sicily, the diet is based on fish and seafood. In this example, the content is moving from northern to southern Italy, as the word “regional” would indicate.

    Here is a good place to note that grouping or “chunking” in a speech helps simplicity, and to meet the principle of KISS (Keep It Simple, Speaker). If you were to actually study Italian cooking in-depth, sources will say there are twenty regions. But “covering” twenty regions in a speech is not practical, and while the regions would be distinct for a “foodie” or connoisseur of Italian cooking, for a beginner or general audience, three is a good place to start. You could at the end of the speech note that a more in-depth study would show the twenty regions, but that in your speech you have used three regions to show the similarities of the twenty regions rather than the small differences.

    For a more localized example:

    Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the layout of King Tut’s pyramid.

    1. The first chamber of the tomb was an antechamber.
    2. The second chamber of the tomb was the annex.
    3. The third chamber of the tomb was the burial chamber.
    4. The last chamber of the tomb was the treasury. (Lucas, 2012)

    For an even more localized example:

    Specific Purpose: To describe to my Anatomy and Physiology class the three layers of the human skin.

    1. The outer layer is the epidermis, which is the outermost barrier of protection.
    2. The second layer beneath is the dermis.
    3. The third layer closest to the bone is the hypodermis, made of fat and connective tissue.

    The key to spatial organization is to be logical in progression rather than jumping around, as in this example:

    1. The Native Americans of Middle Georgia were primarily the Creek nation.
    2. The Native Americans of North Georgia were of the Cherokee tribe nation.
    3. The Native Americans of South Georgia were mostly of the Hitchiti and Oconee tribes.

    It makes more sense to start at the top (north) of the state and move down (south) or start at the bottom and move up rather than randomly discuss unconnected areas.

    Topical/Parts of the Whole

    The topical organizational pattern is probably the most all-purpose in that many speech topics could use it. Many subjects will have main points that naturally divide into “types of,” “kinds of,” “sorts of,” or “categories of.” Other subjects naturally divide into “parts of the whole.” However, as mentioned previously, you want to keep your categories simple, clear, distinct, and at five or fewer.

    Specific Purpose: To explain to my freshmen students the concept of SMART goals.

    1. SMART goals are specific and clear.
    2. SMART goals are measurable.
    3. SMART goals are attainable or achievable.
    4. SMART goals are relevant and worth doing.
    5. SMART goals are time-bound and doable within a time period.
    Diamond Macro 1
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Diamond Macro 1" by stephend9 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Specific Purpose: To explain the four characteristics of quality diamonds.

    1. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of cut.
    2. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of carat.
    3. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of color.
    4. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of clarity

    Specific Purpose: To describe to my audience the four main chambers of a human heart.

    1. The first chamber in the blood flow is the right atrium.
    2. The second chamber in the blood flow is the right ventricle.
    3. The third chamber in the blood flow is the left atrium.
    4. The fourth chamber in the blood flow and then out to the body is the left ventricle.

    At this point in discussing organizational patterns and looking at these examples, two points should be made about them and about speech organization in general.

    First, you might look at the example about the chambers of the heart and say, “But couldn’t that be chronological, too, since that’s the order of the blood flow procedure?” Yes, it could. There will be times when a specific purpose could work with two different organizational patterns. In this case, it’s just a matter of emphasis. This speech is emphasizing the anatomy of the heart; if the speech’s specific purpose were “To explain to my classmates the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart,” the organizational pattern would be chronological but very similar (However, since the blood goes to the lungs to be oxygenated before coming back to the left atrium, that might alter the pattern some).

    Another principle of organization to think about when using topical organization is “climax” organization. That means putting your strongest argument or most important point last when applicable. For example:

    Specific purpose: To defend before my classmates the proposition that capital punishment should be abolished in the United States.

    1. Capital punishment does not save money for the justice system.
    2. Capital punishment does not deter crime in the United States historically.
    3. Capital punishment has resulted in many unjust executions.

    In most people’s minds, “unjust executions” is a bigger reason to end a practice than the cost, since an unjust execution means the loss of an innocent life and a violation of our principles. If you believe Main Point 3 is the strongest argument of the three, putting it last builds up to a climax.

    Cause/Effect Pattern

    If the specific purpose mentions words such as “causes,” “origins,” “roots of,” “foundations,” “basis,” “grounds,” or “source,” it is a causal order; if it mentions words such as “effects,” “results,” “outcomes,” “consequences,” or “products,” it is effect order. If it mentions both, it would of course be cause/effect order. This example shows a cause/effect pattern:

    Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the causes and effects of schizophrenia.

    1. Schizophrenia has genetic, social, and environmental causes.
    2. Schizophrenia has educational, relational, and medical effects.

    It should be noted, however, that a specific purpose like this example is very broad and probably not practical for your class speeches; it would be better to focus on just causes or effects, or even just one type of cause (such as genetic causes of schizophrenia) or one type of effect (relational or social). These two examples show a speech that deals with causes only and effects only, respectively.

    Specific Purpose: To explain to my fellow Biology 1107 students the origin of the West Nile Virus epidemic in the U.S.

    1. The West Nile Virus came from a strain in a certain part of Africa.
    2. The West Nile Virus resulted from mosquitoes being imported through fruits.
    3. The West Nile Virus became more prominent due to floods in the Southeast.

    Specific Purpose: To describe to my classmates the effects of a diagnosis of autism on a child’s life.

    1. An autism diagnosis will affect the child’s educational plan.
    2. An autism diagnosis will affect the child’s social existence.
    3. An autism diagnosis will affect the child’s family relationships.

    Problem-Solution Pattern

    The problem-solution pattern will be explored in more depth in the chapter on Persuasive Speaking because that is where it is used the most. Then, we will see that there are variations on it. The principle behind the problem-solution pattern is that if you explain a problem to an audience, you should not leave them hanging without solutions. Problems are discussed for understanding and to do something about them.

    Additionally, when you want to persuade someone to act, the first reason is usually that something is wrong! Even if you wanted your friends to go out to get some dinner, and they have recently eaten, you will probably be less successful because there is no problem for them—they are not hungry. Then you would have to come up with a new problem, such as you will miss their presence, which they may or may not see as a problem for them.

    Students' Achievements Inspire U.S. Ambassador
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): "Students' Achievements Inspire U.S. Ambassador" by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    In another real-life example, let’s say you want the members of the school board to provide more funds for music at the three local high schools in your county. What is missing because music or arts are not funded? What is the problem?

    Specific Purpose: To persuade the members of the school board to take action to support the music program at the school.

    1. There is a problem with eliminating extracurricular music programs in high schools.

      A. Students who do not have extracurricular music in their lives have lower SAT scores.

      B. Schools that do not have extracurricular music programs have more gang violence and juvenile delinquency.

    2. The solution is to provide $200,000 in the budget to sustain extracurricular music in our high schools.

      A. $120,000 would go to bands.

      B. $80,000 would go to choral programs.

    Of course, this is a simple outline and you would need to provide evidence to support the arguments, but it shows how problem-solution works. Psychologically, it makes more sense to use problem-solution rather than solution-problem. The audience will be more motivated to listen if you address needs, deficiencies, or problems in their lives rather than giving them solutions first.

    Problem-Cause-Solution Pattern

    A variation of the problem-solution pattern, and one that sometimes requires more in-depth exploration of an issue, is the “problem-cause-solution” pattern. If you were giving a speech on the future extinction of certain animal species, it would be insufficient to just explain that numbers of species are about to become extinct. Your second point would logically have to explain the cause behind this happening. Is it due to climate change, some type of pollution, encroachment on habitats, disease, or some other reason? In many cases, you can’t really solve a problem without first identifying what caused the problem. This is similar to the organizational pattern called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (German, Gronbeck, Ehninger & Monroe, 2012), which will be fully explained in Chapter 13. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence requires a discussion of cause to create a logical speech.

    Specific Purpose: To persuade my audience that the age to obtain a driver’s license in the state of Georgia should be raised to 18.

    1. There is a problem in this country with young drivers getting into serious automobile accidents leading to many preventable deaths.
    2. One of the primary causes of this is younger drivers’ inability to remain focused and make good decisions due to incomplete brain development.
    3. One solution that will help reduce the number of young drivers involved in accidents would be to raise the age for obtaining a diver’s license to 18.
    Kindle vs Nook
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): "Kindle vs Nook" by jacobnmartinez is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Comparative Advantages

     The goal of this speech is to compare items side-by-side and show why one of them is more advantageous than the other. For example, let’s say that you’re giving a speech on which e-book reader is better:’s Kindle or Barnes and Nobles’ Nook. Here’s how you could organize this speech:

    Specific Purpose: To persuade my audience that the Nook is more advantageous than the Kindle.

    Main Points:

    1. The Nook allows owners to trade and loan books to other owners or people who have downloaded the Nook software, while the Kindle does not.

    2. The Nook has a color-touch screen, while the Kindle’s screen is black and grey and noninteractive.

    3. The Nook’s memory can be expanded through microSD, while the Kindle’s memory cannot be upgraded.

    As you can see from this speech’s organization, the simple goal of this speech is to show why one thing has more positives than something else. Obviously, when you are demonstrating comparative advantages, the items you are comparing the need to be functional equivalents—or, as the saying goes, you cannot compare apples to oranges.

    Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (Persuasive Speech)

    Monroe’s Motivated Sequence is a five-step organization pattern that attempts to persuade an audience by making a topic relevant, using positive and/or negative motivation, and including a call to action. The five steps are (1) attention, (2) need, (3) satisfaction, (4) visualization, and (5) action (Monroe & Ehninger, 1964).

    The attention step is accomplished in the introduction to your speech. Whether your entire speech is organized using this pattern or not, any good speaker begins by getting the attention of the audience. We will discuss several strategies in Section 9 “Getting Your Audience’s Attention” for getting an audience’s attention. The next two steps set up a problem and solution.

    After getting the audience’s attention you will want to establish that there is a need for your topic to be addressed. You will want to cite credible research that points out the seriousness or prevalence of an issue. In the attention and need steps, it is helpful to use supporting material that is relevant and proxemic to the audience.

    Once you have set up the need for the problem to be addressed, you move on to the satisfaction step, where you present a solution to the problem. You may propose your own solution if it is informed by your research and reasonable. You may also propose a solution that you found in your research.

    The visualization step is next and incorporates positive and/or negative motivation as a way to support the relationship you have set up between the need and your proposal to satisfy the need. You may ask your audience to visualize a world where things are better because they took your advice and addressed this problem. This capitalizes on positive motivation. You may also ask your audience to visualize a world where things are worse because they did not address the issue, which is a use of negative motivation. Now that you have hopefully persuaded your audience to believe the problem is worthy of addressing, proposed a solution, and asked them to visualize potential positive or negative consequences, you move to the action step.

    The action step includes a call to action where you as basically saying, “Now that you see the seriousness of this problem, here’s what you can do about it.” The call to action should include concrete and specific steps an audience can take. Your goal should be to facilitate the call to action, making it easy for the audience to complete. Instead of asking them to contact their elected officials, you could start an online petition and make the link available to everyone. You could also bring the contact information for officials that represent that region so the audience doesn’t have to look them up on their own. Although this organizing pattern is more complicated than the others, it offers a proven structure that can help you organize your supporting materials and achieve your speech goals.

    Some Additional Principles of Organization

    It is possible that you may use more than one of these organizational patterns within a single speech. For example, the main points of your speech could be one organizational pattern and the subpoints a different one. In the spatial example above about the Native American nations of Georgia, the subpoints might be chronological (emphasizing their development over time), or they could be topical (explaining aspects of their culture).

    You should also note that in all of the examples to this point (which have been kept simple for the purpose of explanation), each main point is relatively equal in emphasis; therefore, the time spent on each should be equal as well. While you are not obliged to spend exactly the same amount of time on each main point, the time spent (and the importance of the main point) should be about the same. You would not want your first Main Point to be 30 seconds long, the second one to be 90 seconds, and the third 3 minutes. For example:

    Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the rules of baseball.

    1. Baseball has rules about equipment.
    2. Baseball has rules about the number of players.
    3. Baseball has rules about play.

    Main Point 2 is not really equal in importance to the other two. There is a great deal you could say about the equipment and even more about the rules of play, but the number of players would take you about ten seconds to say. If Main Point 2 were “Baseball has rules about the positions on the field,” that would make more sense and be closer in the level of importance to the other two.

    To give another example, let’s say you want to give a commemorative (or tribute) speech about a local veteran whom you admire.

    1. James Owens is an admirable person because he earned the Silver Star in the Korean War.
    2. James Owens is an admirable person because he served our community as a councilman for 25 years.
    3. James Owens is an admirable person because he rescued five puppies who were abandoned in his backyard.

    Although Main Point 3 is a good thing to do, it’s really not equal to Main Points 1 and 2 in importance or in the amount of time you would need to spend on it.

    Earlier in the chapter, we said that organizing a speech involves grouping, labeling, and order. Let’s address labeling here. You will also notice that in most of the examples so far, the main points are phrased using a similar sentence structure. For example, “The first chamber in the blood flow is…” “The second chamber in the blood flow is…” This simple repetition of sentence structure is called parallelism, a technique useful for speakers and helpful for the audience in remembering information. It is not absolutely necessary to use it and will not always be relevant, but parallelism should be used when appropriate and effective.

    In relation to the way each main point is written, notice that they are full grammatical sentences, although sometimes short and simple. For purposes of preparation, this is a good habit, and your instructor will probably require you to write your main points in full sentences. Your instructor may also expect you to write your subpoints in complete sentences as well, but he or she will discuss that with you. There are examples of the different versions of full sentence outlines provided at the ends of some chapters.

    Finally, in the way you phrase the main points, be sure they are adequately labeled and clearly explain your content. Students are often tempted to write main points as directions to themselves, “Talking about the health department” or “Mention the solution.” This is not helpful for you, nor will your instructor be able to tell what you mean by those phrases. “The health department provides many services for low-income residents,” says something we can all understand.

    This page titled 13.5: Patterns of Organization is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lisa Coleman, Thomas King, & William Turner.